Awareness or Exploitation? #FreeBritney

Zully Sosa, executive editor

Recently released documentary “The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears” brought the issue of pop star Britney Spears’ conservatorship to the forefront of news this week. Since the beginning of her career in the early 2000s, Spears has found herself a popular topic of tabloids and talk shows which put her under massive scrutiny. Being under this harsh lens took a toll on her mental health, causing her to level up the not-so-innocent teenage sweetheart image her management created. Her breaking point is widely considered to be when she shaved her locks, and attacked a car with an umbrella in front of paparazzi.

In 2008, the public consensus was that Britney Spears was mentally unstable so the star’s father Jamie Spears pleaded to the courts that he be put in charge of her person and estate. We now know Britney asked for him not to be her conservator. It’s also been revealed that many people around her didn’t believe the conservatorship was necessary.

The issue with the conservatorship is it was put in place under the basis that Britney was unfit to make decisions for herself, unable to handle her money and unfit to work. But since 2008, she has released four albums and opened one of the highest grossing Vegas residencies of all time. As the conservator, Jamie Spears earns a percentage of her earnings, and as Britney has been vocal about not wanting to perform and instead focus on her children, this leads people to believe that she is being forced to work. As she has no authority over herself, she cannot refuse. 

Upon realizing this and rumors that Britney was forcefully entered into a mental health facility,  fans were outraged. In 2017, these fans the now famous hashtag “#FreeBritney” to raise awareness as well as petition for the conservatorship to end. This documentary successfully portrays the severity this has on her freedom and the importance for her to have public support to end the conservatorship. 

For me it raised the question, do we finally have the capability to sympathize with her situation? This documentary is a test of how far we as a society have come in the discussion of mental health. It even acknowledges that mental health was not openly and frequently discussed as it is now. Writer Wesley Morris said it best, plainly stating “There was too much money to be made from her suffering” when reflecting on the early 2000s. I think this statement still applies today. 

I’m glad we can all agree that the way the paparazzi treated Britney was disrespectful and traumatizing. But with this documentary being released the same week as one of her important court hearings and Netflix already developing their own documentary about her, it’s clear that staying out of her business is not on the agenda. Creating these documentaries in the name of awareness is just as much profiting off of her trauma as tabloids do. We cannot keep exploiting her in the name of spreading awareness. 

This story has the power to create better regulations of conservatorships, specifically protecting the conservatees best interest and creating an easier petitioning process. Justice for Britney would bring justice to conservatees everywhere. She deserves renewed freedom not because she is a well accomplished pop star, but because this issue is so much bigger than her. 

The goal is not for Britney to end her conservatorship and then immediately get into the studio and “create the music she always wanted”. Nor is the goal for her to start a world tour that would be the comeback of all comebacks. After years of being profited off of and having her voice silenced, Britney does not owe anyone anything.